As India gets ready to sign the S-400 missile defence deal when Narendra Modi meets Vladimir Putin for formal discussions on Friday, New Delhi will be aware that the move may potentially invite US sanctions.
Putin, accompanied by a high-level delegation that includes foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, will arrive in India on Thursday evening when he is expected to have a private dinner with PM Narendra Modi.
On Friday, after formal delegation talks India and Russia are expected to sign a set of key pacts. While the defence agreement will hog the headlines, India and Russia are also expected to announce a new space cooperation mechanism. This was put in motion after Modi announced that India would send a man to the moon by 2022.
Meanwhile, officials have engaged extensively with the US to prepare them for the S-400 deal and India-Russia relations in general. During the recent 2+2 talks, Mattis and Pompeo held an hour-long “offline” discussion with national security adviser Ajit Doval on the subject.
Sources said Russia has offered to provide equipment and training for the mission, with a “Make in India” component.
Russia has also offered to train an Indian cosmonaut to travel to its portion of the International Space Station as part of the preparation for the manned moon travel. Putin recently appointed former deputy PM Dmitry Rogozin as chief of Roscosmos, which makes it easier for India, sources said.
Energy is the next frontier for India-Russia cooperation with India having vastly increased its investment in Russia’s energy sector.
The first shipment of LPG from Russia arrived in Gujarat earlier this year, which led oil minister Dharmendra Pradhan to propose that Russia should partner India in the gasification of its economy. In 2017, for instance, energy imports from Russia grew tenfold.
ONGC Videsh Ltd, sources said, is raising stakes in Russia’s far east. To make it easier for business, Russia has now introduced an e-visa for visitors to that region. Its an area of vulnerability for Russia, situated as it is on China’s border, where the border regions are facing increased Chinese immigration.
However, Russia will continue to resist India’s Indo-Pacific policy. Sources said, Russia will engage India on ‘Asia-Pacific’, refusing to acknowledge the Indo-Pacific, in deference to China. That will be a sticking point between India and Russia, even though Delhi is going out of its way to engage Russia on this.
Russia and India also differ on Afghanistan where Russia wants to engage Taliban and bring it to the power structure, which is unacceptable at this point to India.